More support is on the way for Indigenous people living in urban areas on eastern Vancouver Island.

The province is providing $7.8 million in COVID relief funding to 25 friendship centres throughout B.C., including in Nanaimo, Duncan, Courtenay, and Port Hardy.

The BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres will distribute this one-time funding among all the centres.

The money will go towards a mix of online and in-person services like meals and hampers, care packages for seniors, and education kits for children. 

It will also help keep staff and clients safe with new handwashing stations, sanitization and personal protective equipment.

Premier John Horgan said the COVID-19 pandemic has tested everyone in ways we never imagined, “and Indigenous peoples living in urban areas are relying on the help offered by friendship centres at unprecedented levels.”

“We have provided additional funds through the BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres to meet this significant demand and support the critical, culturally appropriate services that friendship centres are providing during this particularly challenging time.”

Friendship centres throughout B.C. provide many essential services for Indigenous peoples living in urban areas, including child care, counselling, food and shelter. 

Over the past several months, they’ve seen a substantial increase in needs from people impacted by the pandemic.

“Friendship centres have seen a rapid increase in requests for services during the pandemic,” said Leslie Varley, executive director, BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres. 

“They are fulfilling the need for culturally safe and appropriate supports during a time where our people are more susceptible to the impacts of COVID-19.”

Varley says they are addressing three priorities as a result of COVID-19 — food security, personal protective equipment and sanitation, and equipment and supplies. 

“The allotted funding will help ensure that those who are most vulnerable to the virus have access to food, and that our staff have the equipment and supplies they need to provide these services safely.”

“Expanding our government’s support for friendship centres and the Indigenous peoples they serve is one of the important priorities the Premier tasked me with in my new role,” said Murray Rankin, Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation. 

“Given the pressures friendship centres have been facing as a result of the pandemic, this new funding comes at a critical time to bring them needed relief and support their vital services for the health and well-being of Indigenous peoples in urban areas – including Elders who are especially vulnerable to COVID-19 and must be protected as knowledge-keepers of language and culture.”

Quick Facts:

  • B.C. friendship centres are part of a national network of Indigenous-led social service organizations that have served Indigenous families for over 70 years.
  • Approximately 78 percent of Indigenous peoples in B.C. live off-reserve or in urban areas.
  • In 2018, the B.C. government more than tripled the financial support for friendship centres by providing the BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres with an additional $6.45 million over three years.